Enrollment Headache: Graduate Programs and Retention Rates

Enrollment Headache: Graduate Programs and Retention Rates

University of Central Oklahoma’s enrollment rates are down, and the number of students on campus is decreasing. (Photo from Vista Archives.)

University of Central Oklahoma officials are looking for reasons why students are not staying in school and not enrolling in graduate programs, according to data released by Institutional Research.

UCO’s Institutional Research released the UCO Fall Demographics Book for 2016, showing data for each college and department, as well as data for students individually.

The headcount for graduate studies over the past five years shows an overall decrease of 8.2 percent, according to the demographics book. This only includes the colleges that offer graduate programs.

The colleges that saw the greatest decreases over the past five years, headcount-wise, include the College of Business at a decrease of 14.2 percent and the College of Liberal Arts at a decrease of 11.3 percent.

According to UCO Vice President of Student Affairs, Myron Pope, the data in the demographics book seems to display issues with UCO retention rates and graduate programs. A large number of UCO’s MBA students include international students, according to Pope.

“Right now we have a master’s program in mathematics and computer science… [the program] is more focused on mathematics.  India, one of the largest countries out there that are sending people abroad for master’s degrees, [is] looking for purely computer science degrees, not math and computer science,” Pope said. “So, for that reason, we got to do a better job of marketing, offering what people want.”

Over the past five years, Business also showed a decrease of 17 percent in the amount of student credit hours taken for all the departments in the college.

The Management Department within Business that showed the most significant decrease in credit hours at 34.7 percent, according to the demographics book.

“We went down this year, our retention and our graduate numbers were down… What we’re are doing right now is just looking at the factors, the variables, that impacted students’ decisions to leave UCO,” Pope said.

He also said there were some problematic changes in the MBA program within Business that has affected their enrollment numbers.

“The thing that we hear is that once students get here, they have a good experience. The people who employ our students are just always talking about how great they are and how qualified they are; those are our positives,” Pope said. “But again, we first got to get them here. We’ve got to get them through. That’s my priority.”

According to Pope, there was one point in time that enrollment had an impact on how much money UCO received from the state; however, that is no longer the case. UCO is currently funded by tuition costs and state-appropriated funds.

UCO’s Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, John Barthell, said the data in the demographics book does seem to indicate some retention issues as a student progresses through college.

“As you go through [the demographics book’s] numbers … you start to see a drop right as you go up to the senior year, so that is a retention issue and that is an area of focus also of the Division of Student Affairs,” Barthell said.

Last fall was a record-breaking year for first-time freshman for UCO at 2,432 headcount-wise, according to Barry Lofton, executive director for Undergraduate Admissions and Pre-College Programs.

Although that number is down this fall at 2,299, it is still the second highest number for first-time freshman in UCO history, according to Lofton.

“We’ve been very intentional in the metro area, and so we’ve increased our community engagement a lot more. So I think that couples, along with students, feel UCO is accessible,” said Megan Hagar, Director of Recruitment and Scholarship.

Lofton also said the increase in freshman enrollment could be that UCO targets pre-college kids who often come from low-income first generation backgrounds and are sometimes involved in the Trio programs or GearUp programs.

“We have made an effort to reach out to those groups and say to them ‘Hey, we are interested in your kids. We are interested in the population that you serve,'” Lofton said.

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